Prompted by my Bibliophile Birthday post from last week, I've decided to do a Mary Stewart giveaway! This is partially a selfish endeavor so that then I'll have an additional person to talk to about these books. And if you win it and read it and you love it, come back and tell me. And I'll tell you which one to read next! I figured I ought to give you a little more background on my love for Mary Stewart's books, so I'm sharing an essay I wrote a few years ago for the Readerville journal. It explains it the best, I think.
The Mary Stewart Affair
My mother loved Mary Stewart. In the summer of 1967 when the word “bell bottom” was first introduced into the dictionary and the Bee Gees were struggling new artists, my mom was a sophomore in high school in the small town of Malad, Idaho. Few events from the outside world penetrated this little valley at the foot of the Samaria Hills, but that summer my mother discovered a library shelf full of mystery novels by a British woman named Mary Stewart. She spent that summer immersing herself in Stewart’s cleverly crafted tales of smart, elegant young women stumbling unwittingly into European intrigue and romance.
Growing up I heard the name Mary Stewart and titles such as Madam, Will You Talk?, Airs Above the Ground, and Touch Not the Cat referred to in tones of hushed reverence. Stewart books proudly adorned the family bookcases sandwiched in between the likes of Dickens and Shakespeare. All those lovely volumes my mother painstakingly collected over the years from used bookshops across the nation appeared soporific and unappealing to me as a child, with their delicate dust jackets and their uneven pages like the sheets of some forgotten manuscript.
More often than not I opted for Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden when it came to summer reading material, with the result that I came to my own inevitable Mary Stewart summer late in the game. Home for the summer, triumphant from my freshman year of college, I emerged from a week of recuperation in desperate need of a good book. Or twelve. As my eager fingers ran along the spines of good old Nancy and Trixie, they passed over Dickens and Shakespeare to stop on the creased spine of a small, worn paperback copy of Madam, Will You Talk? Why not? I asked myself. Now had to be as good a time as any to find out what all those hushed tones meant. So I settled down on the floor of my bedroom, book balanced against bent knees, and read that first unforgettable line, “The whole affair began so very quietly.”
May, June, and July passed quietly and the affair continued seamlessly as I fell completely under the spell of a mystery writer who read like Jane Austen meets 1950’s debutante London. I found myself frequently laughing over sophisticated women in “affairs of yellow chiffon” and always delighted by the way Stewart wove obscure literary references into her chapter headings and witty dialogue. More than once I glanced up to see Mom smiling at me through the doorway, not even bothering to hide her pleasure that her only daughter couldn’t put down the same books that had captivated her as a girl thirty years ago. Fifteen books and one summer later I closed the final book with a reluctance and a reverence only to be matched by my mother’s. That first Mary Stewart summer never seems dimmed by the passage of time or the pages of countless other books. For there have been many since.
So. All you have to do is leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway. Tell me about your favorite book-as-gift giving experience. Which author did your mom turn you on to? Do you have a favorite Stewart? It's very hard for me to pick my favorite. I can whittle it down to my top three or four, but from there it often depends on the time of year or what kind of day I've had. So I'm going to give away a copy of her first book, the first one I read, and the one I honestly think everyone should start with--Madam, Will You Talk? You can read a brief summary and excerpt here. I'd leave this open a week but I'm going out of town on Thursday so you have until this Wednesday the 6th at midnight, when a random commenter will be chosen. Make sure to leave me a way to contact you. I'm all excited!